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Wellness: Hand Washing

While handwashing seems like a simple task, many people don't do it often enough or correctly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing is the most important thing you can do to keep from becoming ill.

When to Wash Your Hands

  • After using the restroom
  • After touching animals, animal waste or animal food
  • Before and after preparing food (especially before and immediately after handling raw meat)
  • Before and after eating
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Before and after treating wounds or cuts
  • Before and after caring for a sick or injured person
  • After handling garbage
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • After handling money

Hand Washing Technique

  • Wet hands and exposed portions of arms with running water prior to reaching for soap.
  • Using soap, rub hands together to create lather. Do this away from the running water so the lather isn't rinsed away.
  • Wash the front and back of hands, exposed portions of arms, and between fingers and under nails.
  • Continue washing for 20 seconds or more, which is the time it takes for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. Need a timer? Sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
  • Rinse hands and forearms thoroughly under running water. Keep fingertips pointed down while rinsing.
  • Dry hands and forearms with a single-use towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, turn off the faucet with single-use towel to prevent recontamination of hands.

Antibacterial Soaps for Hand Washing

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration there isn't enough science to show that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. Washing your hands with plain soap and water is more effective at preventing the spread of germs.

Hand Sanitizers vs. Hand Washing

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are commercially available to disinfect your hands. While they can kill germs and bacteria that may be on your skin, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective at killing germs when dirt is present on hands. For best results, you should first wash your hands to remove the dirt and then use a hand sanitizer for additional protection against germs.

The CDC recommends choosing products that contain at least 60% alcohol. When using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, use the amount recommended by the manufacturer. Apply the product to the palm of one hand, rub hands together to cover all surfaces of the hands and fingers and continue rubbing until hands are dry.

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